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Periods: the hidden health story

Periods: the hidden health story no-one is talking about

We’ve made amazing progress in how we talk about period poverty– but there’s a hidden health story surrounding periods that we can’t afford to ignore.

2017 was the year of the period in the UK.

We surfed the crimson wave of change (oh yes!) and the movement to end period poverty finally had its moment in the press and across social media.

Tina Leslie spoke about girls she had met who couldn’t afford sanitary products.

No More Taboo and Bloody Good Period highlighted the challenges of managing your period if you’re homeless.

Amika George brought activists to 10 Downing Street.

Jess Phillips MP and Paula Sherriff MP called for Tampon Tax funding to address period poverty.

Monica Lennon MSP led the way in Scotland, with innovative pilots and policy change to tackle the root causes of period poverty.

And we joined forces with activists to run the first ever period poverty summit in Leeds, bringing together a movement for change.

There’s still much, much more we all need to do to end period poverty. But we’ve come a phenomenally long way in such a short time, and it’s heartening to see progress is being made.

But the stark truth is, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What our research has revealed are the shocking stories and statistics that lie behind the period poverty headlines.

And the reality is that, when it comes to education, young people are dramatically ill-informed about menstruation and their reproductive health.

Girls and boys aren’t being taught how the menstrual cycle works, or about the emotional and social aspects of periods. They are also missing out on basic, vital information about how their bodies work – and the health implications are extensive.

It’s upsetting to think that 79% of girls who experience menstrual symptoms that worry them, or that could indicate a health problem, have not consulted their doctor.

Equally upsetting is the fact that their reasons for this are primarily embarrassment, not knowing what’s going on with their bodies, worrying that their doctor will be male, or the belief that they are overthinking or exaggerating their symptoms.

Girls have been told to keep quiet and manage their periods in silence for so long, there’s no counter message to say: you have a right to be healthy and to know what’s going on with your body.

I recently attended the first APPG Women’s Health conference, chaired by Paula Sherriff MP.

I was horrified by the stories I heard of the suffering experienced by young women with menstrual and reproductive health problems – stories like these ones, highlighted by Endometriosis UK, The Womb Room and Vicious Cycle: Making PMDD visible.

I also heard the stories of young women, gathering together in support groups, wondering if anyone would believe their stories of unbearable pain and severe depression were anything more than just a ‘bad period’.

If we are truly going to see a period revolution – and I really hope we are – we can’t stop at eliminating period poverty.

We also have to talk about health, about education, about our right to know our own bodies and how to keep them healthy, happy and safe.

To do this, we need to address the huge gaps in education, that are leaving young people feeling alienated from their bodies.

We need healthcare systems that are aware of menstrual health problems, and that can support those experiencing them properly. And we need to start listening to girls, women and other menstruators, without telling them to just go away and get on with things in silence.

Break the barriers

Our first-of-its-kind report on UK girls’ experiences of their periods

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